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|Region||Islamic scholar/ Explorer|
Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn ِAbdullah Al Lawati Al Tanji Ibn Battuta (Arabic: أبو عبد الله محمد ابن عبد الله اللواتي الطنجي ابن بطوطة) (born February 24, 1304; year of death uncertain, possibly 1368 or 1377) was a Moroccan Berber scholar and jurisprudent from the Maliki Madhhab (a school of Fiqh, or Sunni Islamic law), and at times a Qadi or judge. However, he is best known as a traveler and explorer, whose account documents his travels and excursions over a period of almost thirty years, covering some 73,000 miles (117,000 km). These journeys covered almost the entirety of the known Islamic world and beyond, extending from North Africa, West Africa, Southern Europe and Eastern Europe in the West, to the Middle East, Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China in the East, a distance readily surpassing that of his predecessors and his near-contemporary Marco Polo.
At the instigation of the Sultan of Morocco, Abu Inan Faris, several years after his return, Ibn Battuta dictated an account of his journeys to a scholar named Ibn Juzayy, whom he had met while in Granada. This account, recorded by Ibn Juzayy and interspersed with the latter's own comments, is the primary source of information for his adventures. The title of this initial manuscript تحفة النظار في غرائب الأمصار وعجائب الأسفار may be translated as A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling but is often simply referred to as the Rihla الرحلة, or "Journey". Whilst apparently fictional in places, the Rihla still gives as complete an account as exists of some parts of the world in the 14th century.
Almost all that is known about Ibn Battuta's life comes from one source—Ibn Battuta himself. In some places, the things he claims he saw or did are probably fanciful, but in many others, there is no way to know whether he is reporting or storytelling. However, due to the complexity and thoroughness of his accounts, we are left to assume that his chronicles were in fact true.
An impact crater on the moon, the Ibn Battuta crater, is named after him. A themed shopping mall in Dubai, the Ibn Battuta Mall, also bears his name, with some of his earlier research and inventions in displays scattered throughout its corridors.
Ibn Battuta was born in Tangier, Morocco, during the time of Merinid Sultanate rule in the Hijri calendar year 703 into a Muslim family. At the age of (approximately) twenty, Ibn Battuta went on hajj—the pilgrimage to Mecca. Once done, however, he continued traveling, eventually covering about 75,000 miles over the length and breadth of the Muslim world, and beyond (about 44 modern countries). Ibn Battuta started his journeys in 1325.
Returning to Cairo, he took a second side trip, to Damascus (then also controlled by the Mameluks), having encountered a holy man during his first trip who prophesied that Ibn Battuta would only reach Mecca after a journey through Syria. An additional advantage to the side journey was that other holy places were along the route— Hebron, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, for example—and the Mameluk authorities put special effort into keeping the journey safe for pilgrims.
After spending Ramadan in Damascus, Ibn Battuta joined up with a caravan traveling the 800 miles from Damascus to Medina, burial place of the prophet Muhammad. After four days, he then journeyed on to Mecca. There he completed the usual rituals of a Muslim pilgrim, and having graduated to the status of al-Hajji as a result, now faced his return home. Upon reflection, he decided to continue journeying instead. His next destination was the Il-Khanate in modern-day Iraq and Iran.
Second Hajj and East Africa
After this trip, Ibn Battuta returned to Mecca for a second hajj and lived there for a year before embarking on a second great trek, this time down the Red Sea and the Eastern African coast. His first major stop was Aden, where his intention was to make his fortune as a trader of the goods that flowed into the Arabian Peninsula from around the Indian Ocean. Before doing so, however, he determined to have one last adventure and signed on for a trip down the coast of Africa.
Spending about a week in each of his destinations, he visited Mogadishu, Mombassa, Zanzibar, and Kilwa, among others. With the change of the monsoon, he and the ship he was aboard then returned to Arabia. Having completed his final adventure before settling down, he then immediately decided to go visit Oman and the Straits of Hormuz. This done, he journeyed to Mecca again.
Byzantine Empire, Golden Horde, Anatolia, Central Asia and India
Spending another year there, he then resolved to seek employment with the Muslim Sultan of Delhi. Needing a guide and translator if he was to travel there, he went to Anatolia, then under the control of the Seljuqs, to join up with one of the caravans that went from there to India. A sea voyage from Damascus on a Genoese ship landed him in Alanya on the southern coast of modern-day Turkey. From there he traveled by land to Konya and then Sinope on the Black Sea coast.
Crossing the Black Sea, Ibn Battuta landed in Caffa (now Theodosia), in the Crimea, and entered the lands of the Golden Horde. There he bought a wagon and fortuitously joined the caravan of Ozbeg, the Golden Horde's Khan, on a journey as far as Astrakhan on the Volga River.
Upon reaching Astrakhan, the Khan allowed one of his pregnant wives to go give birth back in her home city—Constantinople. It is perhaps of no surprise to the reader that Ibn Battuta talked his way into this expedition, his first beyond the boundaries of the Islamic world.
Arriving there towards the end of 1332, he met the emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus and saw the outside of Hagia Sophia. After a month in the city, he retraced his route to Astrakhan, then carried on past the Caspian and Aral Seas to Bokhara and Samarkand. From there, he journeyed south to Afghanistan, the mountain passes of which he used to cross into India.
The Sultanate of Delhi was a new addition to Dar al-Islam, and Sultan Muhammed Tughlaq had resolved to import as many Muslim scholars and other functionaries as possible to consolidate his rule. On the strength of his years of studies while in Mecca, Ibn Battuta was employed as a qadi ("judge") by the sultan.
Tughlaq was erratic even by the standards of the time, and Ibn Battuta veered between living the high life of a trusted subordinate, aiding in the converting of the people that lived along the trade routes that he travelled, and being under suspicion for a variety of treasons against the government. Eventually he resolved to leave on the pretext of taking another hajj, but the Sultan offered the alternative of being ambassador to China. Given the opportunity to both get away from the Sultan and visit new lands, Ibn Battuta took it.
Southeast Asia and China
En route to the coast, he and his party were attacked by Hindus, and, separated from the others, he was robbed and nearly lost his life. Nevertheless, he managed to catch up with his group within two days and continued the journey to Cambay. From there, they sailed to Calicut (two centuries later, Vasco da Gama also landed at the same place). While Ibn Battuta visited a mosque on shore, however, a storm blew up, and two of the ships of his expedition were sunk. The third then sailed away without him and ended up seized by a local king of Samudera Pasai in today Aceh of Sumatra island a few months later. In his travel log, he mentioned about the ruler of Samudera, Malik ul Salih, who was a Muslim and performed his religious duties in his utmost zeal. The madh'hab was Imam Shafi'i, and it reminded him of similar customs he had seen in India.
Fearful of returning to Delhi as a failure, he stayed for a time in the south of India under the protection of Jamal al-Din. Jamaluddin was ruler of a small but powerful Nawayath sultanate on the banks of the river Sharavathi on the Arabian Sea coast. This place is presently known as Hosapattana and is located in the Honnavar taluka of Uttara Kannada district. When the sultanate was overthrown, it became necessary for Ibn Battuta to leave India altogether. He resolved to carry on to China, with a detour near the beginning of the journey to the Maldives.
He spent nine months in the Maldive Islands, much longer than he had intended. As a qadi, his skills were highly desirable in these formerly Buddhist islands that had been recently converted to Islam, and he was half-bribed, half-kidnapped into staying. Appointed chief judge and marrying into the royal family, he became embroiled in local politics and ended up leaving after wearing out his welcome by imposing strict judgments in the laissez-faire island kingdom. From there, he carried on to Ceylon for a visit to Sri Pada (Adam's Peak).
Setting sail from Ceylon, his ship nearly sank in a storm, then the ship that rescued him was attacked by pirates. Stranded on shore, Ibn Battuta once again worked his way back to Calicut, from where he then sailed to the Maldives again before getting on board a Chinese junk and trying once again to get to China.
This time he succeeded, reaching in quick succession Chittagong, Sumatra, Vietnam, and then finally Quanzhou in Fujian Province, China. From there, he went north to Hangzhou, not far from modern-day Shanghai. He also traveled even further north, through the Grand Canal to Beijing, although there has been some doubt about whether this actually occurred.
Return home and the Black Death
Returning to Quanzhou, Ibn Battuta decided to return home—though exactly where "home" was a bit of a problem. Returning to Calicut once again, he pondered throwing himself on the mercy of Muhammed Tughlaq but thought better of it and decided to carry on to Mecca once again. Returning via Hormuz and the Il-Khanate, he saw that state dissolved into civil war, Abu Sa'id having died since his previous trip there.
Returning to Damascus with the intention of retracing the route of his first hajj, he learned that his father had died. Death was the theme of the next year or so, for the Black Death had begun, and Ibn Battuta was on hand as it spread through Syria, Palestine, and Arabia. After reaching Mecca, he decided to return to Morocco, nearly a quarter century after leaving it. During the trip he made one last detour to Sardinia, then returned to Tangier to discover that his mother had also died, a few months before.
Andalus and North Africa
Having settled in Tangier for all of a few days, Ibn Battuta then set out for a trip to al-Andalus—Muslim Iberia. Alfonso XI of Castile was threatening the conquest of Gibraltar, and Ibn Battuta joined up with a group of Muslims leaving Tangier with the intention of defending the port. By the time he arrived, the Black Death had killed Alfonso, and the threat had receded, so Ibn Battuta decided to visit for pleasure instead. He travelled through Valencia and ended up in Granada.
Leaving al-Andalus, he decided to travel through one of the few parts of the Muslim world that he had never explored: Morocco. On his return home, he stopped for a while in Marrakesh, which was nearly a ghost town after the recent plague and the transfer of the capital to Fez.
Once more he returned to Tangier, and once more he moved on. Two years before his own first visit to Cairo, the Malian king Mansa Musa had passed through the same city on his own hajj and had caused a sensation with his extravagant riches—West Africa contained vast quantities of gold, previously unknown to the rest of the world. While Ibn Battuta never mentions this specifically, hearing of this during his own trip must have planted a seed in his mind, for he decided to set out and visit the Muslim kingdom on the far side of the Sahara Desert.
The Sahara Desert to Mali and Timbuktu
In the fall of 1351, Ibn Battuta set out from Fez, reaching the last Moroccan town ( Sijilmasa) a bit more than a week later. When the winter caravans began a few months later, he joined one, together with two of his cousins, ibn Ziri and ibn 'Adi. After a month, he arrived at the Central Saharan town of Taghaza. Taghaza was actually a dry salt lake bed, and its buildings were constructed from slabs of salt by slaves of the Massufa tribe, who cut the salt from the lake bed in thick slabs for transport by camel. Taghaza was a profitable commercial centre and awash with Malian gold, though Ibn Battuta did not have a favorable impression of the place. A long and difficult journey lay ahead, requiring special advance guides or takshif with local experience to arrange a passage. When the takshif became lost, the entire caravan usually disappeared without a trace. Ibn Battuta had his own tragedy: after quarreling with ibn 'Adi, ibn Ziri lagged behind the caravan until he became lost, and was never seen again. Traversing the open wastes of the Sahara Desert was therefore terrifying to many travelers, and Ibn Battuta noted the difficulty of navigating without landmarks, writing that there was "no visible road or track in these parts, nothing but sand blown here and there by the wind." After another 900 harrowing km through the worst part of the desert, Ibn Battuta finally arrived in Mali, particularly the town of Iwalatan ( Walata).
From there, he traveled southwest along a river he believed to be the Nile (it was actually the Niger River) until he reached the capital of the Mali Empire. There he met Mansa Suleyman, king since 1341. Dubious about the miserly hospitality of the king, he nevertheless stayed for eight months before journeying back up the Niger to Timbuktu. Though in the next two centuries it would become the most important city in the region, at the time it was small and unimpressive, and Ibn Battuta soon moved on. Partway through his journey back across the desert, he received a message from the Sultan of Morocco commanding him to return home. This he did, and this time it lasted.
After the publication of the Rihla, little is known about Ibn Battuta's life. He may have been appointed a qadi in Morocco. Ibn Battuta died in Morocco some time between 1368 and 1377 from the same disease that claimed his mother's life, the Black Death. For centuries his book was obscure, even within the Muslim world, but in the 1800s, it was rediscovered and translated into several European languages. Since then, Ibn Battuta has grown in fame and is now a well-known figure in the Middle East, not only for being an extensive traveller and author, but also for aiding in the conversion of the people along the trade routes that he took.
Travelling route of Ibn Batutta
Ibn Battuta travelled almost 75,000 miles in his lifetime. Here is a list of places he visited.
- Fes, Morocco
- Tlemcen (Tilimsan)
- Oaks mountain
- Constantine, named as Qusantînah.
- Annaba, also called Bona.
- Tunis - At that time, Abu Yahya (son of Abu Zajaria) was the sultan of Tunis.
- Sousse - also called Susah.
- Jeddah - A major port for pilgims to Makkah
- Makkah - The original plan of his journey was to pilgimage to Makkah.
- Rabigh - Small city north of Jeddah on the Red Sea
- Medina - Where Ibn Batuta visited the grave of the prophet Muhammad.
- Strait of Hormuz
- Bulgaria - His intension, as he mentions in his book, is that he wanted to go the Land of Darkness.
- Volga River
- Istanbul - "Constantinople" as it was called in his time
- Khorasan (Province)
- Punjab region
- Alibag - Ibn Batuta was imprisoned in this area as mentioned in his book.
Other places in Asia
- Sri Lanka - known in his time as Ceylon
- Coromandel Coast- in India
- Brahmaputra River - Ibn Batuta visited the area on his way to China. This place is in Bangladesh.
- Meghna River - Near Dhaka
- Malay Peninsula
- Quanzhou - as he called in his book the city of jackass's
- Hangzhou -- Ibn Batuta referred to this city in his book as "Madinat Alkhansa" مدينة الخنساء. He also mentioned that it was the largest city in the world at that time; it took him three days to walk across the city, which is huge even by today's standards.
- Beijing - Ibn Batuta mentioned in his journey to Beijing how neat the city was.